May 12, 2009
I have a friend, a young film critic, who is incensed that the upcoming Terminator: Salvation has been given a PG-13 rating. And he's not the only one. I understand where he and others like him are coming from, yet I cannot identify with their anger, nor my friend's assumption that the more family-friendly rating is an automatic reflection of the film's assumed poor quality.
Doubtless the rating decision is a marketing move - the film will take in far more money the wider an audience it can attract. That's basic economics. Playing to those economics, at the expense of artistry and the creative process is, unequivocally, shameful. But is that what's going on here?
Director McG has stated that he cut very little to bring Terminator: Salvation within the PG-13 guidelines - one scene of violence and another of nudity. Losing both scenes, he said, in no way impinged on the holistic, structural integrity of the story. If that is indeed the case - and what more do we have to go on right now than his word - the gratuity he describes won't be missed by anyone other than those who go to movies seeking little more than titillation.
Condemning all R-rated films simply because they are R-rated is misguided. Some stories, in pursuit of the truth of their narrative, naturally incur an R-rating. Would The Passion of the Christ have been nearly as effective had Christ's torture and crucifixion been sanitized? Tragically, we do not live in a G or even PG world. Ours is a fallen world and, struggle as we might to bring the light, we harm our witness and make a mockery of the truth if we claim otherwise. When a film reflects the world as it truly is, oftentimes an R-rating is inevitable. (I am in no way implying that Terminator: Salvation throbs with a message of Christian redemption, no matter what the title may imply.)
In the same way, we cannot decry films that mange to relay this truth (or simply entertain) without gratuitous sex and violence as a necessary prime mover for their plot. Good drama (or comedy for that matter) is hardly beholden to body counts and bare breasts. As another, older critic friend recently said, "Wantonness doesn't equal quality."